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Combine Performances Confirm Deep Class of Cornerbacks

Posted Feb 27, 2014

If you like defense, you will like the 2014 NFL Draft. In what NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has called the deepest draft he’s seen in 10 years, there are several defensive positions that contain both top-end talent and depth throughout.

One of those positions is cornerback, where there is a duo that stands head and shoulders above the rest followed by a deep second-tier that is sure to make cornerback-needy teams happy in the second and third rounds.

“I like this corner(back) draft,” Mayock said while appearing on Voice of the Vikings Paul Allen’s weekday radio show on KFAN. “(Darqueze) Dennard, (Justin) Gilbert from Oklahoma State, are the two top corners on most people’s boards. They’re very different-type corners.”

Gilbert was one of the Combine’s biggest winners, as he registered a blazing-fast 40-yard dash time of 4.37 seconds while also showing explosiveness with a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 10-foot-6 broad jump. For much of the 2013 season, Dennard was considered the top prospect in this class, but Gilbert’s performance at the Combine may cause some scouts to go back and look at more tape as they prepare to finalize their draft boards heading into May.

There’s a dropoff after Dennard and Gilbert, but it’s not significant and the next tier includes several options.

“I happen to like the Virginia Tech kid, Kyle Fuller, who a lot of people think is a second- or third-round pick. I have a first-round grade on him,” Mayock said. “He could be sitting there when the Vikings pick in the second round. The kid from TCU, (Jason) Verrett, is a second-round guy who I think has everything but size.”

Verrett, who was a standout at TCU, also ran well in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.38 and he registered a 39-inch vertical leap. If you don’t need your cornerbacks to flirt with the six-foot range, Verrett, at  5-9, 189 pounds, offers plenty of upside.

Will the Vikings strike on a cornerback in the first round? It’s easy make a case for it, and Mayock did so while speaking on KFAN.

“I think there’s some depth in this class,” he explained, “and if they pull the trigger for Dennard…if Dennard runs 4.5 (40-yard dash) or better, I’m all in on him anywhere they want to take him.”

Dennard ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, essentially meeting the threshold Mayock established. It may or may not be Dennard for the Vikings in the 2014 NFL Draft. If it’s not Dennard or Gilbert or any of the names mentioned above, here are three other possibilities who stood out during Senior Bowl week. The following write-ups are from our “10 Who Stood Out During Senior Bowl Week” piece…

3. Stanley Jean-Baptiste – Cornerback (Nebraska)
If you like big cornerbacks (6-2, 215 with 78¾ wingspan) who are fast, physical and can cover, then get on the Jean-Baptiste bandwagon. Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard is widely-considered to be the top-rated cornerback in the 2014 class, but he was not in Mobile this week. That left the door open for Jean-Baptiste to improve his draft stock, and the Nebraska defender stormed through the door with no hesitation and capitalized on the opportunity. During one-on-one drills he looked especially effective in press coverage, but he also demonstrated a good back pedal and an explosive first step in closing on the receiver and the ball when he was in off coverage. His tape shows a mean tackler who is unafraid of contact and he did nothing to take away from that during the week of practices, either. Pairing him with Xavier Rhodes would give the Vikings a pair of long, physical and athletic outside cornerbacks.

9. Pierre Desir – Cornerback (Lindenwood)
Desir’s East-West Shrine week was described by many as just “okay.” A late addition to the Senior Bowl, Desir measured in at 6-1 195 and played collegiately at Lindenwood. All of that together generated low expectations of him, for me at least. But Desir competed hard all week and had perhaps his best day on Wednesday, displaying solid technique and good results in press coverage and also showcasing his athletic skills to make plays on the ball and recover quickly when beaten. All of this speaks to Desir’s competitiveness as well as his ability, and competitiveness is a great trait for a cornerback to have because in the NFL you’re going to get beat from time-to-time. The key is how you respond on the next rep. Desir displayed competitiveness and toughness all week.

Honorable Mention: Jaylen Watkins – Cornerback (Florida)
Many criticize Watkins’ press coverage ability but I didn’t see too many errors throughout the week. What you can see easily with Watkins is athleticism – great recovery speed and you always feel he’s in position to make a play.

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